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Ukrainian occupied regions plan to “vote” on joining Russia



CNN

Several Kremlin-backed authorities in occupied eastern and southern Ukraine have announced they will hold referendums on formal Russian membership this week, in a move that threatens to redefine the parameters of the conflict.

Referendums could pave the way for Russian annexation of the areas, allowing Moscow to frame the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as an attack on Russia itself, thereby providing Moscow with a pretext to step up its military response.

The latest developments follow a significant shift in Russia’s stance after a sudden and successful Ukrainian offensive across much of occupied Kharkiv this month galvanized Ukraine’s Western supporters and led to recriminations at Moscow.

In what appeared to be a coordinated announcement, Russian-appointed leaders in occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic all said they planned to hold “votes from September 23.

Together, the four regions that have announced their referendum plans represent around 18% of Ukraine’s territory. Russia does not control any of the four in their entirety.

Ukraine dismissed announcement of referendums in occupied regions as a ‘sham’ stemming from ‘fear of defeat’, while country’s Western supporters signaled they would not change their support for Ukraine .

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield condemned the expected referendums during a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday, and reiterated that the United States would not recognize any attempt to Russia to “claim the annexation of the sovereign territory of Ukraine”.

The Pentagon said on Tuesday that the referendums would have no credibility and would not impact US support for Ukraine.

The potential referendums have not been fully approved by the Kremlin, with Russian President Vladimir Putin yet to comment on the plans. On Tuesday, reports circulated that Putin was preparing to address the nation, but the address never materialized, and instead analysts close to the Kremlin suggested it had been postponed until Wednesday morning. , local hour.

But the announcements received quick support from Russian politicians. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has publicly endorsed referendums in the self-declared Donbas republics, saying it would be of “enormous significance” for the “systemic protection” of residents.

Medvedev, who is deputy chairman of Russia’s National Security Council, said on his Telegram channel that once the republics are integrated into the Russian Federation, “not a future leader of Russia, not a single official will be able to return on these decisions.

The referendum announcement also comes amid changes and proposals to change the way Russia codifies military service.

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, amended the military service law on Tuesday, toughening penalties for violations of military service duties – such as desertion and evasion from service – according to the agency. state press TASS.

Separately, deputies and senators of the State Duma prepared amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, proposing to introduce liability of up to five years in prison for the destruction or damage by neglect of weapons and military equipment in wartime, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported. reported.

The deputies also introduced into the Russian Criminal Code the concepts of “mobilization”, “martial law”, “time of war” and “armed conflict”, which will now be considered as aggravating circumstances in criminal convictions.


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